Preview: 'Blades Close Regular Season with Home Battle against IceMen
ESTERO, Fla. - In search of their 50th win of the year, the Florida Everblades (49-16-5-1, 104 pts.) host the Jacksonville Icemen (36-30-2-2, 76 pts.) on Saturday night at Hertz Arena to close out the regular season.
Game 72: Everblades vs. Jacksonville
When: 7 p.m. ET
Where: Hertz Arena
Listen: WJBX - News, Talk & More
Social: Twitter | #JAXvsFLA
Last Time Out
Michael Downing scored his first goal of the year to lift the Everblades to a 3-2 overtime win over the Orlando Solar Bears on Friday at Hertz Arena in the final regular-season game between the in-state rivals. Trailing 2-0 in the first period, Florida scored the final three goals of the game to earn the split in the 12-game season series. Alex Tonge notched a goal and an assist for his second straight multi-point game, while Jeremy Helvig made 22 saves for his 27th win of the year, tying a franchise record for a 'Blades rookie netminder.
Players to Watch
Blake Winiecki (FLA) - The rookie forward has been sensational for the 'Blades this season and especially so over the last month. Entering Saturday, the St. Cloud State University product has registered points in seven straight games, which is the second-longest point streak by an Everblades player this season. He has put together four different point streaks of six or more games and has recorded multiple points in 13 contests this year. Winiecki ranks fifth among ECHL rookies with 59 points (25g-34a).
Wacey Rabbit (JAX) - The 12th-year pro is Jacksonville's leading scorer with 60 points (29g-31a) in 70 games this season and has yet to miss a game. Rabbit also leads all Jacksonville players with nine points (5g-4a) in head-to-head matchups against the 'Blades this year. The Lethbridge, Alberta, native has played a bulk of his career in the AHL, suiting up in 309 career games and posting 95 career points (36g-59a) in the AHL.
Saturday marks the 13th meeting between the two teams this season, meaning Jacksonville is Florida's most-played opponent of the year. The Everblades hold a 21-3-2 all-time record against the Icemen and have posted an 8-3-1 mark against Jacksonville this season. Home ice has played a key role in the season series, with Florida going 5-0-0 at Hertz Arena and Jacksonville posting a 4-3-0 mark at Veterans Memorial Arena.
Debut for Weninger
Rookie goaltender Jeremy Helvig has shouldered a bulk of the load of late for Florida, appearing in 11 of the last 14 games, but the 'Blades will go to Evan Weninger in net on Saturday for the regular-season finale. Weninger recently completed a four-year career at the University of Nebraska Omaha, where he set school records for career saves (3,260) and shutouts (8). He played in 115 games for the Mavericks from 2015-19.
Home Ice Advantage
The Everblades have been a tough team to beat at home in the three-year tenure of head coach Brad Ralph. Florida has racked up 78 home wins since the start of the 2016-17 campaign, a win total that now leads the ECHL in that time frame. The Toledo Walleye have 77 wins over the last three seasons and are the next closest team to Florida. The 'Blades currently sit second in the league with 26 home wins this season. Florida's highest home win total under Ralph was 27 victories last year, and it can match that total by winning on Saturday night.
Promising Penalty Kill
Since yielding power-play goals in three straight games from Feb. 27-March 2, including a season-high three power-play goals on March 1 against Orlando, Florida's penalty kill has been dominant. The 'Blades have allowed just four power-play strikes over their last 13 games and have converted on 92.9% (52-of-56) of their penalty kills in that 13-game span. Florida has been even better in its last seven games, converting on 28-of-29 penalty kills (96.7%) and putting together perfect performances in six of those seven games. In terms of league rankings, Florida is eighth overall on the penalty kill at 84.6%, while it is fourth in home penalty kill rate at 86.8%.
Florida opens postseason play with a pair of home games this coming week, hosting tilts on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m. against an opponent to be decided.
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